On last Monday night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Rattleballs,” a purposeless Finn meets Rattleballs, a gumball machine with unparalleled swordwork and an iron will, but who also happens to be a Candy Kingdom renegade. It’s the eponymous time again!
If you left “Blade of Grass” thinking Finn’s become an invincible slice machine with a new sword and a new outlook on life, prepare for sore, hard-to-watch disappointment. With “Rattleballs,” Finn learns a lesson or two about mindless subservience, Ooo gains its very own Batman figure, and Princess Bubblegum’s craving for order and absolute authority very nearly collapses on itself once again. I did find myself sighing that Finn still isn’t over junk that happened mid-season, but the episode compensates with the hilariously jaded character of Rattleballs, and some dispassionate death-dealing on PB’s part.
We find Finn in a pretty sad state indeed: alone in the dark of PB’s kitchen (because Jake thankfully has more sense), waiting for her to wake up and help him feel like a hero again by giving him mindless tasks to go berserk over. It does feel a bit random to have Finn go back into the rebound-mode we saw in “Too Old,” though it’s even more intense this time around, somehow. Aside from spending three weeks fetching mink’s milk for Princess Bubblegum’s breakfast, he also hangs out in a junkyard, engaged in masturbatory play-acting with a mannequin for Princess Bubblegum and another mannequin to insult her honor. It’s quickly evident how much of a tailspin his moral compass is in when a mysterious figure slashes a tipped-over car in half as it hurtles towards Finn’s creepy little head. However, Finn’s bro-alarms ring out when the car lands on his Mannequin Princess, prompting him to pick a fight with his savior.
I loved Rattleballs’ character design, especially the part where they made him an upside-down gumball machine (with the gumdrops at the crotch) just to capitalize on an already silly name. He’s got a charmingly disaffected monotone and a mean signature move (the “shadowless thrust”), and as the classic sensei-type character, is just the influence Finn needs right now in this strange and sad part of his boyhood years. Rattleballs ascertains that confused as he is, Finn’s still got a warrior’s mojo and chooses to spare him. After Finn fishes a stuck gumball out of his throat, they’re ready for an obligatory training montage, which culminates in the conclusion that Finn is not a robotic killing machine, and the way of the sword, though more admirable than being PB’s man-slave, won’t be the new creamy filling to his emotional void. Strike two for a lost and lonely Finn.
Rattleballs then relates the sad tale of his race: an elite police force designed by Bubblegum in the early days of Ooo to fill in the security gaps left by the still-green and maturing Banana Guards. The gumball police were too effective however, and wired for too much violence. They bent their formidable skills to Kumite-style deathmatches, illegal fighting rings in the guts of Ooo’s warehouses, that were seized upon by the young Bubblegum. She makes the decision to round up the guards and scrap them down into minimalist furniture, though Rattleballs had the will necessary to defy programming and escape to the junkyards, where he’s been gardening, meditating, and throwing eggs.
Of course, Finn misses the point about pointless devotion and unfettered zeal entirely, choosing instead to obey an oath to PB that exists mostly in his head. He turns Rattleballs in to PB, confident that they’ll be able to talk it out, because PB was so good at talking it out with James and having everyone in on her ruthlessly efficient plans. Thankfully, the wee-wooing Banana Guards aren’t quite a match for a move called the shadowless thrust which cuts the very air between wielder and target thus removing all wind resistance, and RB finishes the fight with his sword pointed at PB.
Despite having the willpower to do whatever the hell he wants at this point, Rattleballs announces that he’s lost his lust for battle, that in his heart he still serves her 100%, and hands her the blade to act as she pleases. It’s arguable that the programming still has some hold over his allegiances, but I find it more likely (and badass) that he’s relinquished the wildfire of ego-driven action, having realized that all consciousness is slave to some authority or other. Compare this to Finn’s oath of fealty, which is more for himself than for anything else.
The episode ends with Bubblegum faking Rattlebones’ death, knighting him, and giving him authority to “protect the Candy Kingdom from the shadows,” which Rattlebones accepts, saying that it’s “marginally better than hiding in a dump.” Hence, we get to see more of the dangerous game that the Princess has set up for herself–absolute authority is convenient as sliced bread, but life is never that simple, and rarely tolerates such straight lines. At this point, I see her belief in authority and control as a result of witnessing the Mushroom War, surviving it, and determining to build a society in which it cannot be repeated. And the means to her dream is a central, unquestionable authority, which is a great big mouthful, even for one as empowered and insightful as herself.